(CNN)Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will deliver remarks in Georgia on Wednesday, less than a month before the state’s Senate runoff elections.
According to a notice from the State Department, Pompeo’s address to Georgia Tech will focus “on the China challenge to U.S. national security and academic freedom.” Pompeo has pursued a hardline approach to Beijing, and the administration on Monday sanctioned a new tranche of officials over crackdowns in Hong Kong.
Pompeo defended the speech as an important foreign policy address and took a shot at his predecessors in an interview on “The Guy Benson Show” Monday.
“I promise you, when Secretary (John) Kerry traveled to Massachusetts or Secretary (Hillary) Clinton traveled to New York, those were coastal elite states. Those were all fine for secretaries to travel to,” he said. “When Mike Pompeo wanted to travel to Georgia, somehow that’s incomprehensible that foreign policy could matter to an enormously capable research institution like Georgia Tech, where I’m going to go speak about that very set of issues, the fact that in America’s research educational institutions today, the Chinese Communist Party is aiming to lobby, to influence, and to steal.”
“And I want to talk about that. I want to talk about their infiltration at those universities, the things those schools ought to do and indeed must do to protect not only their students but their data,” he continued. “And I want to talk about how China is going about this, why it impacts American national security, and how the Trump administration is pushing back against that.”
The top US diplomat’s stop in the Peach State follows stops by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to campaign for Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who face tight races against Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively. The winners of January 5’s runoff election will determine control of the Senate. His travel to Atlanta also comes amid skyrocketing Covid case rates across the country.
Pompeo has faced sharp scrutiny, particularly from congressional Democrats, for his active domestic speaking schedule and his involvement in domestic politics.
He has shattered past precedent of secretaries of state largely avoiding the domestic political fray, and violated his own State Department regulations by speaking to the Republican National Convention in August. His speech was recorded from Jerusalem during an official, taxpayer funded trip, although the department said they were delivered in his personal capacity and that no taxpayer funds would be used. The Office of Special Counsel launched a probe into whether the speech violated the Hatch Act, two House Democrats said in late October.
In the run-up to the general election in November, Pompeo delivered a number of speeches aimed at domestic audiences — one at a megachurch in Texas, one to state lawmakers in Wisconsin and a virtual one to a conservative anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion Christian organization in Florida.
In early October, two top Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee — Chairman Eliot Engel and Rep. Joaquin Castro — called on the State Department to turn over records related to those speeches by mid-October.
“We are concerned that Secretary Pompeo’s actions threaten the institutional integrity and reputation of the State Department, as well as long-standing principles of election fairness,” Engel and Castro said at the time. “To that end, we urge the Secretary to cease from engaging in any further activity that could be construed as partisan in nature.”
Pompeo, who is believed to have presidential ambitions, was also investigated by former State Department inspector general Steve Linick for potential misuse of taxpayer resources prior to his ouster in May. Pompeo repeatedly denied he fired Linick in retaliation, saying he had no knowledge of the ongoing investigations.
This story has been updated with comments from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.